From Cairns to Darwin
via Alice Springs
September - October 2007
Part I - Queensland


This is an abridged description of a trip to Australia in September-October 2007. The intention is to give a first hand personal experience of how we, Petra, Uli and myself, did get to and through the country from Cairns to Alice Springs and then by myself further on to Darwin. Despite the fact that we did not book anything in advance at all (except for the flight to Australia and rent of a Nissan Patrol 4WD), and that we covered about 5163km with our car in 21 days, and then my trip with the Ghan train, Greyhound bus and various tours with about another 2500km, it still was a very good journey with no hassle whatsoever (also not that much adventurous either, though).

If you want to skip directly to the other parts, then just hit
Part II or Part III or Part IV.

Getting from Berlin to Cairns

I booked the flights just one month in advance and paid 1100 Euro (including airport tax) for the tickets with a validity of one year for following legs: Berlin to Frankfurt with Lufthansa, Frankfurt to Singapore with Quantas, Singapore to Cairns with Jetstar, Darwin to Singapore with Jetstar, Singapore to Frankfurt with Quantas, Frankfurt to Berlin with Lufthansa. (The extra tickets from Singapore to Manila with Cebu Pacific and from Manila back to Singapore with Jetstar, to get the connecting flight to Cairns, after a three month stopover in the Philippines, was another 188 Euro.)

The flight from Berlin to Frankfurt with Lufthansa was as usual: no drinks not to mention any snacks, but the flight with Quantas non-stop to Singapore was super, still though with the old Boing 747. Good service, good food, so was the flight to Cairns.

Arriving in Cairns

The flight from Singapore to Cairns was smooth, so smooth that we arrived 20 minutes earlier than the scheduled arrival time of 8:20 a.m. on September 16th. There seemed to be a problem with me at Passport Control: the lady directed me to a "special agent". I was wondering what this was all about but he only wanted to know what I planned to do in Australia and whether I have been in Australia before (strangely, the same thing happened when I left Australia in Darwin, seemingly being the only one with such a "special" treatment). No problems at Customs, there was just the usual dog sniffing routine.

Once entering the International Arrival/Departure Hall, I looked first for a money changer, but fortunately there was an ATM, so I cashed 500 AUD from my visa account (I had 200 Euro cash just in case there would not have been one).

I will only state AUD (Australian Dollar) in this report by using the $ sign. The current exchange rate was $1.60 for 1.00 Euro or $1.00 for 0.63 Euro. On all AUD amounts just subtract 1/3 to roughly get to the Euro (even 5% less, but this may not be the case if cash is exchanged).

Next step was getting a backpacker accommodation. Nothing easier than that: most accommodations in Cairns are listed on a board at the Hotels Telephone Service Desk in the middle of the hall with a free phone to call them up for reservation and mostly free pick-up service. I chose "Tropic Ways", which I had pre-selected from my Internet research before, though the pick-up bus was labeled with "Travellers Oasis Backpacker". It belonged to the same owner as Tropic Days (as I later found out). Also my room was reserved for me in the
Travellers Oasis
8 Scott St.
Cairns 4870
Tel.: 07 4052 1377
instead of the "Tropic Ways" and it was even closer to the Cairns city center. The double room did cost $55 (prices doubled since my last stay in Cairns in 1994). The room was very small and modest, but was furnished with a fridge, fan and aircon (coin operated), though common toilet and shower. This "Oasis" also had a cute small swimming pool and sun deck. Of course, it also had a common kitchen and television room and Internet desks, like all Backpacker's have. I booked two nights until September 18th when Petra and Uli were due to arrive in Cairns. So I had plenty of time to find a place to stay with Petra and Uli, and to get to know Cairns.

In Cairns

It was a 20 minutes walk to the city center passing around the railway station and through a shopping center mall to the Shield Street, which leads directly to the Esplanade and the harbor. First thing now was to board the bus from Lake Street (corner Shield Street) going to Holloway Beach (fare $3.00), 15 km to the north, to check out one of the resorts I have read about in the Internet. The beach and the Cairns Beach Resort looked nice, so I booked an apartment for three nights commencing September 18th.

Click the small picture to get it enlarged

Cairns - Lake Street, bus stops on the left Cairns - City center, Casino on the right
After returning from the Holloway Beach I went back to my "Oasis" and slept till evening (still had some sleep deficiencies), but was ready just in time to get up for dinner. I tried some Aussie's pubs, but they were so full, even couldn't find a place at the bar, so I went to the "Night Market" with its many food stalls.

Next day I first had to find a nice place for having breakfast and found the Beethoven Cafe in Grafton Street (close to the corner of the Shield Street), a German place with German bread etc. and even Leberkaes. After that, I was finally ready to conquer Cairns. First, of course, the Esplanade, by walking from the swimming pool to the end of the boardwalk with playgrounds for the kids and lookouts for the Cairns Bay's bird life.
Cairns - young girls at the swimming pool Cairns - little girls at the playground
Cairns - Bay with bird wild live Cairns - Bay with rescue chopper
I also looked around for a better backpacker place closer to the city center. I found a good one just right on the Esplanade which was the
The Bellview
85-87 The Esplanade
Cairns, QLD 4870
Tel.: 07 4031 4377
It had a swimming pool in the court yard. Dormitory for $22, single for $39 and double for $49. However, the small motel room for $59 was a better choice: nice room with bathroom, television, fridge. Much better than the $55 room at the Traveller's Oasis.

I would not recommend any of the other backpacker hotels on the Esplanade, like YHA, International Hostel or Caravella: some really looked inside like St. Quentin and their backyard like old Bronx.

If you are up to a real hotel, however, then the
Great Northern Hotel
69-73 Abbot St.
Tel.: 07 4051 5151
would be my choice. The double for one person was $85 and for two $100. The rooms are nice with bathroom, balcony, TV, fridge, coffee making facility, and located right in the middle of the center and very close to the Esplanade.

After my inspection of some of the other accommodations in Cairns I strolled to the harbor, where all the boat tours and cruises to the Great Barrier Reef are starting. You name it, they offer it.
Cairns - going on a fishing tour? Cairns - going on a submarine adventure?
One yacht was especially interesting, which was the Athena. This was the biggest yacht privately owned. Neither for rent nor for paying guests.
Want to sail around the world? But only if invited by the owner
Maybe renting this yacht for a day or going on a James Cook history cruise
Next day I had to get up early in order to be at the airport for the arrival of Petra and Uli. At 9 a.m. they showed up and we went to the Europcar counter to pick up our 4WD. It was a pretty new white Nissan Patrol with only 5600km on it.

It was not easy to get one rented. AVIS was already fully booked out three month before. Renting one from a local Australian Car Rental was no good choice because it had no full insurance coverage in case of any own fault car damage. In addition, there was hardly any one offering one way rental to Alice Springs.

So Uli rented the car online at, who did the booking at, who finally hired the 4WD at Europcar in Cairns. He pre-paid 1695.00 Euro and then another 401.04 Euro for the "One Way Charge" ($550 plus tax) locally in Cairns, for 22 days. Actually we used the car only for 21 days (somehow didn't do our math).

Following items were included: Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), local tax, theft protection, unlimited mileage, third party liability, VRRF (Vehicle Registration Recovery Fee) and second driver fee. In case the local rental station had to be paid for up to the own liability for own damage, the amount would be fully reimbursed by Holiday Autos.

There also had been some correspondence about some statements in the contract, which forbids going on unsealed roads (why rent a 4WD then?), but it was eventually confirmed by the Europcar Regional Manager in Cairns that we are allowed on most of our planned unsealed roads or tracks (see later explanations).

However, there was no extra equipment provided, beside the highjack and a second spare tyre, for the outback, like signal rockets and HF Radio needed in case getting stuck in the middle of nowhere. Also our 4WD had neither fender (against hitting the many kangaroos on the road) nor a snorkel (for deep water crossings). It was just a luxury off-roader meant to stay on the road.

After finally having taken over our 4WD (following a thorough check), we directly drove to our
Cairns Beach Resort
129-135 Oleander St.
Holloways Beach
QLD 4878
Tel.: 0740370400
The very nicely furnished apartment had a bedroom, kitchen and balcony. As a walk-in guests we did get it for $125 plus $15 for my bedding on the sleeping couch in the living room.

It really was a good choice outside of Cairns with a beach across the street to stroll along and for swimming, though only between the flags, because of the lethal Stinger Jelly Fish. Alternatively there was the resort's own swimming pool and jacuzzi for relaxation. It did not have an own restaurant, but just across the street there was a good beach restaurant. Though, the first evening with Petra and Uli we went to Cairns' Night Market for a Chinese buffet dinner with all you can load on to your plate for either $5, $8 or $12.
Cairns Beach Resort in Holloway Holloway Beach Stinger warning signs
Holloway Beach from the Cairns Beach Resort to the very end of the Holloway Beach

Roundtrip to Cooktown

Right next day we decided to drive to Cooktown via the coastal road through Cape Tribulation, where the sealed road changed to a dirt (unsealed) rough road, a good test for our 4WD capability.
Our Nissan Patrol On the James Cook Highway
First we went to Port Douglas, just 6 km off the James Cook Highway, and visited the harbor and the look-out point, with a nice view to the sea and the Four Mile Beach down there.
Then we drove back to the James Cook Highway to continue to the ferry crossing, but only after we went first unintentionally to the boat tour jetty in Daintree Village and had to drive back to the turn-off road, we had missed before. We just arrived in time to get on the ferry ($10 fare) to cross the Daintree River.
Not Hongkong harbor but Port Douglas harbor Port Douglas look-out to a nice beach
A few kilometers north of Port Douglas we passed through Mossman, surrounded by sugar cane plantations. We didn't stop over to see the sugar mill but had to stop at the sugar train crossing to let the sugar train pass and watch the harvesting procedure.
Waiting for the sugar train to pass Sugar harvesting in full action
The distance from Cairns to Cape Tribulation is 127km. Then another 76km on the Bloomfield Track to the Mulligan Highway. That was a little rough dirt road and at some places slippery where we had once to switch-on the 4WD gear. But driving through the "river" was no problem at all. I even walked through by foot, while watching out for crocodiles, just to make a photo from the other side.
First 4WD challenge: river crossing but no problem for our Nissan Patrol
After another 27km on the Mulligan Highway we finally reached Cooktown, thus 242km altogether including the detour to Port Douglas. Cooktown is named after James Cook, who landed here 1770 involuntarily, because he did get stuck on a riff and had to fix his "HMS Endeavour". Then this place was forgotten for hundred years until the big gold rush increased the population to 35,000. Today it is a very sleepy town with 1,000 inhabitants only, and you feel set back to colonial times, with its typical tropical style buildings.

We only stayed a short time to look around, because the drive back to Cairns was long and still ahead of us. We took the inland and much longer boring route back via Lakeland, Mareba and Kuranda. Lakeland would have been the turn-off point for Laura and the Lakefield National Park. I originally proposed to go there to stay overnight but Europcar would not permit it.

Beside that, we could have seen and done much more during this trip to Cooktown, not all in day, of course, but we must drive, drive, drive, because we had to utilize our 4WD.
Cook Town, where James Cook first landed but probably not with this aluminum boat
James Cook also did not stay in this hotel and opened up his first bank account here
After 326km from Cooktown (thus 568km altogether) we were finally back in Holloway in the dark at about 7 p.m., just in time for dinner at the Coolume Restaurant on the beach. The small Baramundi Fish Tornado on Pulenta was not just too little (like an appetizer) but also a little bit overpriced for $29. The small beer anyway for $5.50. The Fire Juggling Show on the beach was no big deal to compensate for all that.

Uli and Petra did not want to stay any longer in Cairns, although I suggested horse riding to them before, but they did not want to spent $95 per person for a half day ride ($170 full day or $240 for 2 days with one overnight stay at the farm) in the countryside or on the beach. Horses are not my thing so I would have driven behind them with an All-Terrain-Vehicle, an ATV (not Petra's and Uli's thing either). Also flying with the balloon or even going on a daily cruise to the Great Barrier Reef was not appealing to them either, so we checked out at the Cairns Beach Resort next day, i.e. one day earlier as I have originally booked.

First thing however was to buy some provisions and road maps, especially enough water for our trip to the Tableland (and further on), so we drove to the Shopping Mall in Cairns close to the railway station. Then, after a last glimpse at the harbor (it was a must for Uli, the sailor, to see all the yachts to become jealous), we finally left Cairns at around noon.


Instead of going strait on the highway to Kuranda we tried to take a short cut via Redlynch and through the Barron Gorge National Park but could not get any further than the power plant (only by foot). It was worth the detour, though we had to drive back to the highway. From Kuranda then we went to the other side of the gorge, were we had a magnificent view to the waterfall.
The river Barron seen from the dam and then falling down close to Kuranda
Also the walk through the adjacent park around the station of the Kuranda Express, which just happened to stop over, was interesting.
Though the waterfall is lacking some water but is surrounded by nice trees with a kind of mistletoe
Some Prarie Chicks picking all around The Kuranda Express is just leaving
Not so interesting was Kuranda itself, not much real original anymore but more or less catering for the tourists only, especially for the full bus loads, which just happend to be gone after 3:30 p.m. which left the town deserted. So no shows or whatsoever were conducted anymore. Even the restaurants and shops closed down, so there was no reason to stay any longer, but continue to Mareeba.
Kuranda Arts Center Kuranda Market Mall
This restaurant in Kuranda is already deserted German Tucker (Food) is also closed
In Mareeba we went to the Tourist Information Office where we inquired about accommodation. Most hotels seemed to be fully booked. Petra managed to make reservation for a bed and breakfast stay in Atherton (34km from Mareba and 100km from Cairns), which was the
Blue Gum
36 Twelth Avenue
Atherton QLD 4883
Tel.:074091 5149
Atherton had not much to offer except the view from the Halloran' s Hill (extinct volcano) close to the "Blue Gum", but it was the heart of the Tableland from where all other sights can be easily reached. So the choice to settle down here for two days was the right decision.

However, when we arrived at the "Blue Gum", we found out that it was just one room for all of us, and it did cost $170 including breakfast for the three of us, but it was not worth it. We had to tick on a form next day's breakfast choices and the time we want to eat (at the latest 7:45 a.m.!!!). But there was no big choice, just various cereal, toast, butter and jam, coffee or tea. Uli additionally ordered for the first morning scrambled eggs and was charged $10 extra. That was actually outrageous for two eggs. When it came to pay the bill with a credit card, he was even charged 2% fee. The family seemed to be very strict and greedy. Maybe they had to over-regulate their lifes and also that of their guests and to squeeze out the last dollar from them, having to feed seven children and the eighths on its way.

We had dinner at the Atherton Hotel (double rooms for $90 and $110) in the middle of Atherton. The one three course dinner for $17.95 consisted of roast beef, small soup (for two spoon full) and chocolate cake. The beer in the pub, where we also played Australian (not American) pool billiard, was the usual price of $5.50 for the pint.

Next morning, right after our sumptuous breakfast, the "Land Lord" of the "Blue Gum" ran through his tourist introduction procedure. It was very informative, so we decided to follow some of his suggestions for the day. The first destination was then to Herberton, a small historical mining town with a Tin Mining Museum, which could tell interesting stories. In the mining haydays, Herberton had 30,000 inhabitants but now only 900.
Herberton's Post Office Herberton's Old Mine Museum
Then further on to the Mount Hypipame National Park with its Crater and beautiful Dinner Waterfall.
The Crater Dinner Waterfall
Dinner river downstream Tableland countryside
From there we drove cross country to get to Milaa Milaa on a short cut, which was not so easy, because we missed the Kenny Road intersection (actually only a couple of kms after the Crater) having in reality a different name, Kelly Road, as on the map (we should have associated it, we stupid). When we finally took the turn, we were rewarded with a beautiful Tableland country side with some farms in the far distance.

However, there were not many farm stays offered as Petra has wished. We visited some: At one "farm" nobody was around and the second one did not have any horses to ride, because of the horse influenza spreading around all over Queensland (even all the horse races have been canceled). Thus the options for a farmstay and horse riding dwindled considerably to the dismay of Petra, who's main reason to travel to Australia, as I later found out, was just that.
Coffee Shop in Millaa Millaa Old Building in Millaa Millaa
Milaa Milaa is a small picturesque old town (old to Australian standard). Main business around here is logging, though the main town for timber is Ravenshoe.
Pioneers Christies and Palmerston in 1893 Logging seemed to be hard work
Ok, now was time for some lunch. The guide book recommended Milaa Milaa's famous hamburger ($5.50), so I tried and was not disappointed. Where to go next? Already going to be late afternoon. No time to visit the famous waterfalls of this area.
The favourite Millaa Millaa hamburger Planning the next destination
So we decided to hurry to the volcanic Lake Barrine and just arrived in time for the last cruise ($14) and we were the only passengers. The boatman and guide was telling us a lot of the lake and the flora and fauna.
Historical Tea House at Lake Barrine Going on a cruise on Lake Barrine
Beautiful surrounding at Lake Barrine Looks like a bird, the tree
Here is a real bird: a pelican or just an ordinary duck
More other wild birds at Lake Barrine and this is supposed to be a platypus, having like a duck's bill
A turtle in Lake Barrine What nice water lillies?
After that we went for a short stay at the Eacham Lake. It would have been nice for a swim (as still some people were doing), but the sun was setting slowly. Last thing that day was driving through the town of Yungaburra and its nice neighborhood with nice houses along a lake until we settled down at the Nick's Italian-Swiss Restaurant for dinner. My crocodile steak was very good and for $23.50 worth the price.

At the end of the day we almost had driven 180km (with some "going back and forth" on the same road), although the towns in the Tableland were all close by.

Atherton to Undara

Right after our "fantastic" breakfast at the "Blue Gum", we left Atherton on the Kennedy Highway and after 56km we reached the historic timber town Ravenshoe, the highest and our last town in the Tableland (also the gateway to the Tableland coming from the south), with a historic steam railway. We could have seen much more in the Tableland. Each little town always had something to show, even if it was it's own museum with some rusty Singer sewing machines or some tools used in the "old " days.
Ravenshoe locomotive with old interior
Nice shop in Ravenshoe Back on the road
From Ravenshoe we continued on the Kennedy Highway. After 34km we were looking forward to relaxing at and in the Innot Hot Springs. But what a disappointment. At first we did not see anything of a tourist spot. After asking at one of the road houses, we were told to go just up the river, what we did but did not find anything because the river was all dried up. After we went back and asked again, we were told that it is just the little water puddle down the river bank behind the parking lot and we could just lie down and dig ourself in, if the water is not deep enough. Ok, we then found the puddle and could only dip a hand into the water (yes, it was a little hot). But this was not what we had in mind, so we hit the road again.
Promising Innot Hot Springs and that's the real thing
Heading to the Undara Lava Tubes but beware of the road trains


After 112km on the Kennedy Highway from Ravenshoe we turned onto the Gulf Development Road and after another 17km we turned left into a small road leading to the
Undara Lodge
Undara Volcanic National Park
Savannah Way
Tel: 07 4097 1900
Freecall:1800 990 992
There are all types of accommodations: campground site, tents, cottages (or more kind of containers) and carriage compartments of an old train. We decided for the carriage (after we took a look at all the places), which really was something special. The single (no bath attached ) was for $75, the double deluxe with bath was $170, which Uli and Petra chose to sleep like king and queen in the Orient Express.

Dinner had to be reserved and paid for in advance (no other choice anyway). The vegetarian dinner buffet (very good) was $25; with meat, like steak, an additional $10. We also paid straight away $40 for the 2 hours tour to the Lava Tubes, which was due to start soon.

Then we settled down in our compartments. One thing I never experienced before: There was no key to lock the door of our compartment. We were told that nothing has been ever stolen in Undara. Though, I was still happy to find everything in place, including my laptop, every time I came back. Not many other guests were around, so I actually had the whole carriage for myself. Before embarking on the tour, we had some time to swim in the refreshing pool.
My simple train compartment at Undara This is Petra's and Uli's Deluxe compartment
Bird life in Undara Wild kangaroo in Undara
The Lava Tube tour was very interesting with all the history the guide was telling us about, but the site was much ado about not necessarily nothing but about a very simple cave, one of the 60 ones as part of the 190km long tube. Only the fact that this has been created by lava flows from the eruptions of near volcanos around 190,000 years ago, makes it unique.

It was one of the typical Australian inventiveness to make any mediocre nature or historical site a tourist spot. Also always trying to think of any superlative, like: this is one of the longest lave tube system in the world. The infrastructure created for this is enormous, and as one can see also profitable.

The original owner had to cede this site to the government (for becoming a national park) which in return leased the right (time limited) to run it to the original family and will eventually open it up to other investors of new resorts to be build around.
Entrance to the Lava Tube Cave Ceiling in the Lava Tube Cave
After the very good dinner (I stayed vegetarian) we joined the campfire from 8 to 9 p.m. with story telling and sing-alongs, like "Waltzing Mathilda" (which we actually have just missed) and "The pub with no beer", etc.
Dinner at the Undara Diner Car Restaurant With sing-along and get together at the campfire
Next morning we also could have joined another tour to visit the surrounding countryside with its many craters. However we packed and left without breakfast (could have joined the bush breakfast in the woods), and drove 13km to one of the craters, the Kalkani. It was a nice walk up with a nice view from the top to the inside and outside of the crater, but really not very impressive. Uli walked on the rim all the way around in about 30 minutes or so, but for Petra and myself it was enough exercise to just get on top.
View from the crater rim to the landscape View to the inside crater

Undara to Torres Creek

Then we went back on the highway eager to get some breakfast (only egg toast) at the Oasis Roadhouse at the Lynd junction, 118km from Undara. We filled up our tank (always taking every opportunity to do so, because you never know where you find the next gas station).

The unsealed Kennedy Development Road (not Highway), of which we were told in Atherton that the third part will get rough, was leading to Hughenden. I asked some people and was told that the trip may be done in three and a half hours for the 256km.

It was 12:30 p.m. when we set off. The road altogether was better than expected. So there would have been time to visit Porcupine Gorge, also called the Little Grand Canyon, on our way, just 65km before Hughenden, but it may be getting too late, especially if we wanted to go to Torres Creek all of a sudden. Why? See explanation later on.
Back on the road to Hughenden Crossing a dried out river before Prarie
So we even drove onto a smaller track to the east, just 28km before Hughenden, meant as a short cut to Torres Creek. Then after 32km, while we were crossing the dried out Flinders River, we hit the Flinders Highway at the small town of Prarie, which really seemed to be an old Wild West town in the prarie.
Old prarie hotel in Prarie waiting for the cowboys
Then we continued east to Torres Creek to look for the Exchange Hotel, which has been recommended to Petra by her travel agent lady, and she was convinced that this was worth not just a visit but staying there, thus it explained the detour. After 44km from Prarie we reached Torres Creek and saw the
Exchange Hotel
Torres Creek
right away on the left side. We could have chosen the motel type rooms with attached bathroom for $70, single or double, but we decided to take a single room in the main building for $30 and the double room for $40, all without attached bathroom.

Petra wanted to call home on a land line, but nobody knew how to dial an international call. Fortunately some people stopped over and one girl turned out to be German who knew. She was working on a farm and made $300 a week with free lodging, which was not bad (but no real homestay like participating in any farmer's family life).
Staying in the Exchange Hotel and having dinner in the pub
Next morning after having breakfast at the hotel and having a look at one of the road trains, which are up to 50 meters long (this one was used to transport up to 88 cattle), we drove the Flinders Highway back to Prarie, while overtaken another road train, and reached Hughenden after around 85km.
Our first encounter with a road train Carefully over taking a road train

Hughenden to Longreach

Hughenden is already part of the dinosaur country. Many fossils have been found especially in this area, even a 14 meter long Muttaburrasaur. We just stopped over for a cake with a cappuccino (for $7). I also found an internet shop of the "Learning Network Queensland" where I could surf for free and have some maps printed out for just a membership fee of $2. That really was a good deal, since the Australian internet cafe rates everywhere are very expensive between $4 and $8 per hour. Then we continued our trip to Winton.
We savely arrived in Hughenden and met some Emus on the way to Winton
But beside seeing some Emus, the road, going all along the railway track, was boring, so we decided to really go off-road by taking a turn into a farm trail just after 27km (at Stamford) from Hughenden. It would have been another 179km to get strait to Winton, but now we really made a detour with another 340km just to get to Longreach and then another 178km to eventually reach Winton. The question whether this detour was worthwhile or not is immaterial after the event. It definitely was some kind of an adventure, more so, if we would have had a car break-down in the middle of nowhere (I should not think back now).

The trails wound its way through many cattle farms, but they were so huge that we neither did see many cattle along the way nor farm houses (just signs supposedly leading to one), except one time we passed by a farm house and asked for direction.

More questions though, which way to go, were coming up again. Uli checked his compass to even get more confused and kept insisting that we are not going south-east as we were supposed to go. My compass watch, however, showed more the right direction, even if we seemed to drive a little more to the east at that moment. Uli's believe that the sun is always in the south, even in the southern hemisphere, would have been even more confusing. He was finally convinced that we are right on course, after he found out that his compass worked correctly only if the car was standing.

Well, while still trying to follow the main track, we finally arrived in Muttaburra, where we could watch a bull ear tagging (or whatchamacallit) procedure.
Bull ear tagging does not seem to hurt


After about another 116km, we finally arrived in Longreach. It was now too late to continue on the Mathilda Highway to Winton, so we looked for an accommodation but it took some curving around town until we found and settled down in the
Longreach Motor Inn
84 Galah Street
Longreach QLD 4730
Tel.:07 4658 2322
The single room was $95, the double $105. It had all amenities and was conveniently located within town. Though after 6 p.m. the streets seemed to be deserted. Only restaurants and pubs attracted some people. We tried dinner at the
34 Duck Street
Longreach QLD 4730
RSL stands for Returned Service League (for all veterans starting with World War I) and is like a club (anybody can sign in as a guest or visitor without any fee, though) with restaurant, bar, extra room with the poker machines (like one arm bandits) and horse betting counters with screens showing all current horse races.

In almost any city or town you can find one RSL. I have already visited one in Cairns, which was directly located at the end of the Esplanade, so I knew that they serve good meals and drinks, and it was cheaper than all the other restaurants or pubs around. One main dish, whether T-bone steak or Baramundi Fish (no duck in Duck Street, though), plus self-service from the vegetable and salad buffet, for up to $19. Beer for only $3 (instead of $4.00 to $5.50 as in most other pubs).

Next morning was reserved for shopping and sight-seeing, because we had plenty of time to make the 178km on the sealed Mathilda Highway to Winton. The main street looked very much the same as in most towns around, broad (some with a parking lane in the middle) and clean, lined with nice shops.
Very old Landrover before an Outback Outfitter Uli is interested in an office leather satchel
The Outback Outfitter was very interesting, but we did not find anything we would need for our tour into the Outback. This was really for people living and staying in the Outback for a longer period, like pioneers or travellers who like it the hard way, like sleeping in Swags (some kind of an "under the sky" sleeping bag). Petra and Uli were especially interested in all kind of leather ware, like belts, satchels and saddles and all kinds of horse gear.
No new hat? Or a saddle for Petra?
Longreach is also famous for Quantas, the airline which was founded here in the year 1922 (but actually was formed in Winton in 1920). So, another reason for building a museum for squeezing out money from the tourists by charging $18 for some displays of an old airplane beside a Ford Tin Lizzy (what is she supposed to do here) and a lot of stories to tell. Another $18 is requested for taking a look inside the Boing 747.
Quantas Exibition Boing 747 as a museum


After the "very informative" visit of the Quantas Museum, we left Longreach and arrived in Winton in the late afternoon. The town is best known as the place where "Banjo" Paterson wrote Waltzing Matilda in 1895. We searched around for a hotel, but many were fully booked until and including the following weekend, because, as we found out just right now, the annual Outback Festival took place commencing next day with a fully loaded program.
Winton's hotels are many but most were fully booked
However, we were lucky to get two rooms for two nights for $77 each at the
Mathilda Motel
just opposite the Communal Swimming Pool. Since it was hot and we were sweaty from the trip we decided for a refreshing swim in the pool (for $2), before we set out to take a look at the town and have a first beer in a real Outback Aussie Pub.
Busy pub in Tattersalls but were are the nice waitresses
In the pub of the Tattersalls I ordered my favorite XXXX draught beer (tap in Australian) and a hamburger with chips (french fries), which was uniquely stuffed with all kinds of labels and flags (the pub, not the hamburger), especially one was an outdated flag of East Germany.
An antique East German flag in Tattersalls More antique interior in the dining room
Tattersalls was not the only pub in main street. Some others had billiards and darts; one was especially furnished with bookmaker facilities. Not much to do for the folks there in the evening but to hang around in the pubs, a social gathering place for the town's people, where probably everybody knows each other.

Since Winton was supposed to be part of the Dinosaur Trail, it had to show that fact by the many thrash cans in the shape of a Dinosaur foot. Winton can not boast with a real fossil but just some footprints found 110km down south.
Another pub with bookmaker service Post Office with dinosaur thrash can
Next morning we wanted to experience the Outback Festival Opening. Not much folks gathered around at that time of the day. The speakers and singers are all set to perform the opening ceremony. Also many flies gathered to bother the spectators. Some women did not let them by covering their head with a net hanging down from their hat. Everywhere in the outbacks the nasty flies were really annoying, setting down on your nose. eyes and mouth. Even one daring fly made it into Uli's mouth to be eventually but involuntarily swallowed.
Festival's opening ceremony with the first speaker With spectators, some women in the back with head nets
Women's Choir Children's Sing-along
Young girls, next generation Old pioneer, old generation

Going on the Opalton and Dinosaur Loop

Finally we were ready for the Opal fossicking tour leaving Winton at around 10 a.m. After 124km on a dirt road we saw the first sign of Opalton.
On the way to Opalton to visit opal fossicker
Opalton seemed to be deserted. We stopped at the first settlement, which looked a little bit run down. After calling "hello", a lady turned up. She and her husband have been living here for ages but did not make any fortune but just to make both ends meet, she told us.

At the next "estate", the folks were "gone fishing". To know more about them, try Or call them up to ask whether you may use their claim in the meantime to try your own luck, but it would have been hard work digging out a hole with no other equipment than a pick axe and a shovel.
One fossicker was gone fishing and his (?) claim deserted
The only other real person we met was at the Opalton Outpost which consists of living quarters and a small shop. We even could have stayed over night in cabins (beside the possibility of camping), also some meals would have been provided. I actually would have liked to stay here, not just for fossicking alone but also walking around this weird place and staring at the stars during the night.

The proprietor lady of the Outpost was very kind and gave us a lot of information about Opalton, even a map to get around. Opal deposits were discovered here in 1888. The real rush came in 1896, when up to 600 men were working here and eventually Opalton was almost deserted in the year 1900. Today there are supposed to stay, on and off, around 30 people. Best time to visit this place is from April to September.

I felt obliged to buy as a souvenir a small rock with a little Opal in it for $20. For fossicking on your own, you need a permit either obtainable in Winton or at the Opalton Outpost store.

Then we went on our discovery tour trying to follow the trails shown on the map, which we had some difficulty with, so we discovered some deserted places we would not have found by following the map, I guess, though we almost did get lost. But at least we could have stayed in one of the abandoned living quarters scattered all around the area. It seemed that there are not many opals left to be exploited.
This is the Outpost were we met another soul but here only ghosts seem to hound around
Though some fossicker must have made some fortune from their claims to afford a Jaguar and a fancy ATV to roam around from one claim to the other. They also must have invested in some heavy equipment we saw at the site. We wanted to ask them, but also here nobody was at home.
This may be the garage of some more lucky folks by having invested in more heavy equipment.
We continued our trip down south-west. Then after around 45km (at Mayneside) we turned to the northwest onto the Lark Quarry Dinosaur Trackway and after another 68km we came to the turn off point to the Lark Quarry Con Park and after another 4km we finally could step on (ar better around) the dinosaur footprints.

We were one hour late, though, because the last guided tour was just finished, which had started at 2 p.m. But the nice guide conducted another tour just for us, lasting 45 minutes. Ten minutes would have been enough, but the guide was very talkative.

At first he was explaining in front of the painting how the 3,000 foot prints were created 93 million years ago: The small only veggie eater dinos (Ornithopods and Coelurosaurs), grazing at the river bank, were taken by surprise and chased by the predator, the up to three tons heavy dinos (Carnosaurs), so the former tried to run away like in a stampede.

Our guide flaunted more that once that this is the only place in the world were you can see a dinosaur stampede, though only the footprints were proof of this occasion. No fossils whatsoever have been found in this area, as I actually have expected before I came here. So much ado about foot prints.
This is one of the predator dinosaur footprints and the many small ones being chased
Very well preserved now under one roof and this was supposed to have happened
All this was worth to build a shelter for $2.5 million covering the precious find to preserve it for all times, because once unearthed it would have faded away by time, if not protected. Especially by such a sand storm as it was just compiling as soon as we stepped outside. Time to head back to Winton 110km away.
It was quite an effort to create such a building in the outback where sand storms are common, like now

Back in Winton

The festival was still in full swing. Australians are famous for funny games and their peculiar humor. This one was a Sheep Shit Spitting Contest. Who spit farthest won. Didn't try to put that shit in my mouth and beside loosing anyway, also to loose my appetite for dinner.
Sheep Shit Spitting Contest A little bit like Mardi Gras
Best place in town was still the Tattersalls to watch mostly middle aged people, so was the not so sexy anymore "Sax and the Single Girl" later in the evening. Other places catered more for either the young with kind of a disco or for the gambler or players in the pubs with poker machines, billiards and darts.
With rock and roll music and dancing in the disco
I made a single tour around town and visited some other joints (Petra and Uli didn't want to join me) and intermingled with some folks and also entered the internet via a coin-operated computer in one pub ($1 for 10 minutes) before I went back to my motel.

Next morning we left for Boulia, our next and last night stopover in Queensland. Actually, I would have liked to stay in Winton until the weekend, because the best part of the festival was still to come (like trucker meeting and rodeo), but all hotels were fully booked. We left at 8:30 a.m. and after 153km we paused in Middleton (about half way to Boulia and the only roadhouse and "hotel" in between).
Stopover at the Middleton "hotel" The living room with kids of the proprietor
We could have stayed at the Hilton but rather decided to continue our trip
This is already the typical red outback landscape, as the photos show. This road, like many others, is mostly one lane sealed, so if an on-coming car is approaching, you have to drive half on the shoulder (not yours but the one beside the sealed middle road), and rather get completely out of the way of a road train.

Many camels are still roaming around in the outbacks. They have been imported including their riders from Afghanistan (and some other camel countries) when this was the only way of transport in the old days without Land-rovers or -cruisers, but they are actually of no use anymore except for some camel races or camel trekking for the tourists.
Driving. driving, driving but better than camel riding


After 354km we finally reached Boulia where we first went to the Tourist Office. Even for this little town they had much to offer. I mean the Tourist Office, which provided a lot of information material and some displays like in a museum, not so much the town itself, though, except for a Sports and Aquatic Center.

Boulia is also famous for the Min Min Lights, a luminous glow that floats across the sky. The locals reckon it's true but scientists and many visitors, including us, were skeptical.
Life in the outback in the old days seemed to be more lonely than hard life
There were not many hotels to choose from. We decided for the
Australian Hotel
Herbert Street
Boulia, QLD 4829
Tel.: 07 47463 144
right in the middle of town at the one main intersection. We took two motel rooms for $77 each. The other rooms in the hotel's main building were much cheaper but very basic with bunk beds and no attached bathroom.

Before we went on our "sight-seeing" tour we had to make reservation for dinner and even had to choose a dish (my lamb for $19) already. Good that we have done it, otherwise we would not have gotten anything to eat that evening, because it seemed to be the only restaurant in town (all the shops were closed anyway).

Our sight-seeing tour wasn't going far. After a couple of side roads we hit the fields (with some grazing horses). The beautiful oversized Sports and Aquatic Center was not open yet. There must have been a big spender or some polititian diverting some funds to his home town to build it. Wenn we came back for the opening in the late afternoon, we were almost the only ones swimming in the pool.
The "Australian Hotel" in Boulia The "Aquatic Center" in Boulia
Early next day, September 28th, we left Boulia. We would have liked to stay over the weekend on September 29th to 30th to experience another outback festival, but what to do till then.

So we hit the road again, not the Donohue Highway going directly to Tobermorey which is just a very rough track (highway is more than exaggerated). I also read so many bad stories about this track, mostly getting two flat tires, and we had no puncture repair kit, so we rather took at first the much better and sealed Diamantina Developmental Road leading to Mount Isa.

After 148km we reached Dajarra, where we filled up our tank again. Then after another 65km we took the turn on the left leading to Urandangi, which we reached after another 93km (3133km since Cairns now). Even if this Outpost was still in Queensland, I will describe it in the next part, because I felt it already belonging to the Northern Territory.
Steam train versus road train Leaving Boulia for the real outback
Ok, that was the first part of our trip to Australia, for the best still to come. For the other parts just click on Part II or Part III or Part IV.

As it was said before and will be said again: There could have been seen and done a lot more. Also I could have written more. If you want to know more all about the places I have visited, then just look up any of the many guidebooks or in the internet.

© 2002 by WEW Tours